Black women are some of the most beautiful women on the planet, with God-given curves that some go under the knife to possess. But sometimes, what starts out as a brick house body morphs into a house of flab as age and bad habits take their toll. According to the U.S. Department of Health: “African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S.” Heart disease, stroke and diabetes occur at much higher rates for people who are overweight, potentially making obesity a walking death sentence.
We have come too far, and fought too long, to let conditions that we can change destroy us. We must take our health into our own hands and lose weight as a group in order to survive. But, black women have a particular set of beliefs that keep us in a state of denial about our weight issues and how to heal them. We need to confront these myths that keep us at risk. What are the top ten things black women say to ourselves that prevent us from losing weight?
1) “I’m not fat, I’m thick.”
The term “thick” is an apt one to describe the 36-24-38 female that many men adore. But the key measurement here is the waist size. Ideally, a woman’s waist should not be above 35 inches if she wants to avoid diseases like diabetes. You might be thick, but if your waist exceeds this number, you are setting yourself up for health issues.
2) “I don’t want to mess up my hair.”
Unless you have a particularly uncreative stylist, you should be able to come up with a style that enables you to go to the gym. Alternate braids with a slicked down updo, or learn to carefully flat iron your hair with protective products. If you are telling yourself that hair maintenance is the reason you don’t want to sweat, you are being really creative – with excuses.
3) “Being big runs in my family.”
It has been clinically proven that very few people have a genetic predisposition towards being overweight. What does run in families are poor eating habits and patterns of sedentary living. Don’t tell yourself you can’t lose weight because of your genetics. You are likely disempowering yourself.
4) “Black men prefer women with curves.”
Black men, like all men, enjoy the hourglass shape, which is a scientifically proven evolutionary preference. While “thick” an hourglass body has a trim waist. This is interesting because abdominal fat harms the pancreas, contributing to the development of diabetes. Perhaps a thin waist is sexy because it is a sign of health. So keep your curves, but lose the midsection.
5) “If I work out, I’ll look mannish.”
While the proof is largely anecdotal, black women do look more defined from a moderate amount of exercise than other women. That is why First Lady Michelle Obama catches so much flack about her arms. But this is something to use to your advantage. You can get arms like Michelle! Want Serena’s stand-up booty? Build it up with squats! In addition, there are many exercises that will allow you to maintain your softness, from yoga to Pilates. Don’t let this fear stop you from protecting your health.
6) “A gym membership is too expensive.”
In many cities you can get a gym membership for as little as $25 a month or less. If you really need to save, watch a fitness channel on cable for free routines. A five-dollar jump rope combined with squats, lunges and push ups will do the trick. Or walk. Just find something inexpensive that you like, push yourself, and do it consistently. Be dedicated to taking care of you.
7) “It’s okay for me to eat [insert fattening food here]. I’m starting a fast tomorrow.”
One fast will not undo a lifetime of bad habits, or prevent those bad habits from returning when it is done. The awful truth is that to lose weight and be healthy one must eat less, eat well, exercise more, and do it forever.
8) “I may be big, but I’m still healthy.”
You may be obese and in perfect health, but as an overweight person, you run an exponentially higher risk for many debilitating conditions. Why not lose weight while you are well, and maintain your health into your elder years?
9) “I don’t have the time/money to make healthy meals.”
In our hectic, expensive times, cheap fast food seems essential. But the one thing worth spending money and time on is nutritious food. The old adage “health is wealth” rings true when you look at the mental, physical and emotional costs of disease — let alone the material drain. There is little you can do to protect your well-being more than investing in a healthy diet.
10) “I don’t like to work out. It makes my muscles hurt.”
It is supposed to make your muscles hurt! When you work out, your muscle fibers are broken down, then rebuilt stronger, which is painful. Your heart is strengthened by the stress of exercise, making it better able to function day-to-day. But exercise is so powerful, it can reverse diabetes. New studies show it slows aging. Isn’t a little morning stiffness worth these benefits?
Are we as black women willing to face these weight loss facts?
I don’t mean to be harsh. I just want to issue a wake-up call. Black women are the care givers modeling behaviors that can guarantee the vitality of future generations. If we are not fit, will our families be? When we can stop telling ourselves these weight loss lies, we will gain control of our health issues for the betterment of ourselves and our communities.